This entry is actually rather personal, dear to my heart, and also currently in process, so I have a feeling I’ll be writing several blogs about this topic, hence, Part 1. Sometimes two writers come together to create an intriguing story in which they share both the joys and pains of writing with another author. This is called collaborative writing. I’ve tried this method with people before, both professionally and fanfiction wise, and normally it falls apart after a couple of months (though we try to pick the book back up). I’m hoping that the project I’m working on now will last a little longer than that, provided my fellow author and I don’t fly out and, in her words, “stab each other in the eye” over literary frustrations. I’m going to talk a little bit about our story and discuss some of the pros and cons of working with another writer. A lot of these come from personal experience but also from what I’ve heard other writers discuss. The writer I’m working with is A.E. MacKellar, whom is working on a series of her own.
Yes...we’re both trying to collab write and create our own series. I’ll discuss this as both a pro and a con because, really...there’s no better way to have your brain explode than to work on too many projects at once.
- ALL the Ideas:
Pros: What could be better than having two writers together to share a mesh of ideas? Each person can bring something fresh to the table, and if one writer has a mental block, the other one may be able to break through that by fixing plot holes or taking over a chapter. This allows you to bring all of your own personal knowledge into the book and share it with your fellow writer. While I’m a little more inclined to write the “creative” aspect of the book, my friend prefers to do the research so she focuses on that while I help create our world. We have the ability to bounce ideas off of each other and make the story unique with our own personal experiences. Some of the ideas my fellow writers come up with just astound me, and I know that I could never think of them in a million years, or at least not in that night’s writing session. It’s invigorating and exciting to see what your friend has in store for the story and how it might change the actual direction of the book.
Cons:The cons? ALL the ideas. Not only do you have to endure the nonsensical rambling of the muses in your own head, you have to suffer through those in the other writer’s head as well. Ideas may clash, and when you bring something to the table that your fellow author completely shoots down either with logic or a negative reaction to the idea, that can cause rifts. Good writers can find a way to work through these problems and compromise, but sometimes a difference in opinion of ideas can really ruin a collaborative team’s creative abilities. In the case of what’s happening with my friend right now, we both have our own ideas of how the history of characters and worlds came about. This is perfectly fine because we’re working together to solve it. However, when you have several e-mail trains going at once with inquiries about how this would work over this and you’re trying to solve the issues with your own ideas...the process can become rather overwhelming. I’ve literally gotten a headache when I’ve tried to separate one idea from another, and when I’ve tried to sit down and write out character sheets, I’ve blanked out because I have way too many ideas in my head.
Advice: It’s good to have all of the ideas, but take baby steps. Don’t try to slap each other across the face with a fist of ideas. Focus on one idea and work your way up instead of trying to do everything at once. It’ll help keep you both sane. Also, remember to compromise. Not everyone is going to share your same views, which is a good thing. Other ideas will challenge you to make your own plots and plans better. Try not to take offense, and work calmly with your other writer because chances are you’re going to want to adjust her plans as well. Be kind and be considerate.
Pros: Most collaborative writers don’t live in the same household, which can actually be a very good thing. If you don’t see each other everyday, you’re less likely to get annoyed with one other. It gives you some space to work on ideas by yourself and also gives you alone time so that you can get your section of the story done. Most importantly, if you manage to tick off your fellow writer (which I’ll discuss in further detail in the Plot Twists section), she can’t easily fly out to stab you in the eye with a fork...you know who you are.
Cons: Obviously it’s harder to keep in touch with a writer who lives far away, especially if she’s in a different time zone. You might get home one night and decide you really want to write, but either your writer friend isn’t available, or you just can’t work on the plot well enough without talking face-to-face. I miss the idea of having my collaborative friend come over and sit with me while we work through plot issues or world building. E-mail, texting, skyping, and calling work, of course, but there’s something really invigorating about having a fellow writer next to you. While my former roommate and I never wrote anything together, we were able to bounce ideas off of each other’s heads because we were sitting in the same room together, writing our own stories. She really helped me get through some of my blocks. Again, we can still do that over the phone or internet, but it doesn’t have the same feel. You’re a bit disconnected from the other person, especially if you’ve never actually met that person in real life.
Advice: Try to find a way to work with each other in regards to the distance. Maybe set up a time to write so you both can make a stable schedule (in some cases, you may unintentionally do that anyway). Keep in contact and don’t be afraid to share ideas. However, try not to flood your fellow writer’s inbox, facebook, or phone with messages and ideas. For some people, that’s perfectly fine and enjoyable. For others, they may see that as an invasion of privacy, so work together to find a healthy balance.
- Plot Twists:
Pros: I love those moments when I have no idea where the story is going and my friend throws a plot twist at me that knocks me off of my chair and into the next state. That feeling is so euphoric because your own story ends up surprising you, and if the twist can surprise the writer, it’s definitely going to surprise the reader. One of a writer’s biggest enemies is that dreaded writer’s block, so working with someone else helps lessen the blow of the block. If you can’t think of something, then likely your collaborative writer actually can. It keeps the story moving and keeps it fresh. It’s set in two views with plenty of ideas and twists to draw from.
Cons: While plot twists and startling new ideas are all good, sometimes they aren’t entirely what the other writer might have expected. Surprising plot twists can lead to “minor” frustration when the story doesn’t go in the same direction that the other writer expected. For example:
Friend: holy crap!
Friend: what the hell?
Me: had fun with that
Friend: *kills your bunnies*
Friend: Stab them all!
Me: THAT has been what has been lurking in my head this entire time
This is an actual conversation I had with my collaborative writer when I threw a twist into our story. She wasn’t pleased with me, and then she followed this up with a plot twist of her own which caused this reaction:
Me: (you suck lol)
Friend: (You started it!)
Yes, sometimes professional writers can turn into petty children squabbling over a new toy, and I say that with humor. Writers might try to ‘get back’ at one another by creating rather crazy ideas or new plot twists. This is all fine and good until it starts upsetting the actual story. When that happens, writers need to step back, take a breath, and try to regroup.
Advice: Plan different plot twists to keep the story interesting and alive. It’s fine to throw in surprising elements, but be considerate of your other writer’s feelings or plans as well. Remember, the story does come first, so if you plan a plot twist just to get back at a writer, reconsider your plan, especially if it’s going to ruin your plotline.
- Character Sharing:
Pros: Character development can be different between sets of writers. For some collaborative teams, they may create a character together and both write about that person. For others, like my team, we create our own characters and mold them to our own liking. This is good in that we’re both extremely familiar with our own personal characters. When we share them, (maybe my friend has to write a chapter that includes my character), I can offer her advice on things my character may do. This gives you the opportunity too to write your book from different characters’ points-of-views. While my chapter might begin in “Sarah’s” view because she’s my character, my friend’s chapter might begin with “Taylor’s” view, because that’s her character. Sarah and Taylor appear in both chapters, but the focus is on one character over the other. It makes the story a little more interesting because you’re not just focusing on one person.
Cons: The downside to this is the fear of offending your fellow writer by making her character do something she doesn’t think is plausible. How you think the character may react to a situation may be completely different than what she would expect. This can cause clashing of opinion and some frustration on both sides. It can also cause a little anxiety for the person taking charge of the shared character because she’s afraid of doing something wrong.
Advice: My best advice is to just talk about the character. Share character sheets so that both writers know exactly what the character is like, his likes, dislikes, his appearance, etc. (I’ll be including a blog about character development in the coming weeks if you need suggestions.) Don’t be afraid to explore with the shared character, and if a writer doesn’t like what you did, just talk it through and adjust the story as it needs to be adjusted. The more you talk and work together, the more familiar you will be with a character. Also, discuss if you want to write chapters from a particular character’s point of view to make your life easier.
- Multiple Projects:
Pros: When you start writing a story with someone, you have to realize that both of you may have your own private projects that you’re working on. In my case, I’m writing a separate series, as is my fellow writer. Doing something new can actually be very good for both writers. A new project allows your brain to rest and take a brief break from your usual series. Breaks are good because then you can go back to your own series with a clear head and hopefully with fresh new ideas. Also, when you work on your original project, it gives you a break from the one you’re doing with your collaborative writer. If my friend is responsible for writing the next chapter and I have to wait, that gives me plenty of time to work on my other series and not feel guilty about ‘abandoning’ our project.
Cons: There are actually a few serious cons when it comes to multiple projects. 1. Which story is more important to you? You want to make sure that you have your priorities figured out so that you’re not completely abandoning one story over the other. Make sure you don’t leave your writer hanging because you want to work on your series, but at the same time, don’t neglect your series too much because you want to work on the collaborative book. 2. Blending ideas: Make sure you can draw a fine line between both projects. Don’t take ideas from your series and put them into your collaborative story and vice versa. You might start to realize that you’re modeling a character in your series after one in the collaborative book. Also, don’t take elements from one book and throw it into the other. For example, in my series, I have “mages.” In the other series, we have magical folk as well, and I wanted to try to make them different so the two books weren’t so similar. In the end, we used a different term for our magical humans. Another problem I’ve run into is that when I have two projects going, I’ve actually taken scenarios and plotlines from one book and put them into the other by mistake. Honestly, I think I’ve just prevented myself from continuing the old series because of the similar plot lines. Make sure you have a clear path on how you want to write your book. 3. Confusing stories: We’ve had this happen where we’ve worked on our collaborative story and then got confused when we’ve gone back to other projects because plot lines started to blur. Or, in during the crazy idea we had, we took our current plot line that’s filled with magic and supernatural people….and we eliminated ALL of that. We made our characters human and then also rewrote some of their stories and relationships. So we had both that plot line and the original one going at the same time. Let’s just say we had several panic moments where we were like, “Wait! But isn’t he her son? Aren’t they related to these other people?!” only to realize we were thinking about the wrong project. I completely blame that on A.E. MacKellar...it was her idea.
Advice: Establish boundaries of all the projects you’re working on. If you notice similarities, put a stop to them immediately so you don’t have merging plot lines. Be sure to talk with your collaborative author so you both reach an understanding that you still need to focus on your own personal project along with the joint book. Try to do something to clear your mind before you shift from one project to another. This could mean taking a walk, watching a movie, or just surrounding yourself with research pertaining specifically to that book series. If you have too many ideas from both books yapping in your head, it’ll be that much harder to work on the other project.
- Writing Styles:
Pros: As is expected, writers are going to have their own type of writing style. For me, I’m much more focused on detail and magic while my friend is very ingrained in scientific writing. I’m long-winded. I think she has a better balance of writing, but that’s just my opinion. It’s nice to incorporate different writing styles in a novel. She can cut out some of my excessive writing and I can add more detail or flare to hers. We also have the ability to edit each others' writing, which is always a plus. I learn a lot from my fellow writers, and I find that I adjust my style depending on who I’m writing with. It gives me the opportunity to hone my abilities, and it also forces me to edit more because I don’t want my partner to realize how error-filled my writing can be in the very beginning.
Cons: Unfortunately, having different styles may cause, as expected, problems while writing. Authors may argue about the language of the story, the pacing, the description, the length of chapters, and so on and so forth. Understanding of editing and grammar may vary, so a sentence I think sounds perfectly correct may sound like nails on a chalkboard to my partner. I have noticed too--and this may not necessarily be a con for the series you’re working on but rather for your own project--that sometimes your writing style might overall change to accommodate your collaborative writer. This change will make your joined project sound smoother, but it may also influence your other project in a negative way. .
Advice: As with most of the other topics, just talk with your fellow author. Learn about each others' strengths and weaknesses in writing. Both of you should edit each others' work, but be respectful and understanding that you may have a difference of opinion. Try to adjust your style a little so that you can match each other; you don’t want to make the story jarring for your readers after all. Most of all...just have fun.
Phew, that was a bit longer than I expected, and it’s only part 1! I hope that this helps some of you who are thinking of working together to produce a novel. If you have any other experiences in collaborative writing that you want to share or have me write about, let me know! As always, if you think of any topics that you would like me to discuss, please post below.
Note: Art is provided by A.E. MacKellar. These are the first 1,000 pages in our series.